Bethesda Magazine | July-August 2017

Kids and Water Safety

A Potomac mother shares the story of her son's nonfatal drowning. Find out what she's doing to promote CPR training and prevent drownings.

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The Metros—Clay, Laura, Maison and Matt—consider themselves “water people.” Photo by Skip Brown

On an overcast afternoon this May, Clay zips around a soccer field in Potomac, trying to steal the ball from a teammate during a practice for the Wayside Warriors, a team that his father helps coach. He seems to keep up easily with the other boys, and earns praise from his dad for quickly maneuvering the ball with his feet and kicking it to another player.

Clay’s skill on the soccer field and as a swimmer belies the fact that his brain and his body sometimes don’t work well together. In the years since the accident, problems with coordination have surfaced. “He falls all the time,” Matt says. When he comes over to play with Camps’ kids, she watches him closely.
“I get a little anxious,” she says.

Clay also has struggled in school. He started having trouble with reading in first grade, and tests have since shown that he is severely dyslexic, Laura says, which she and Matt believe is related to the accident. The family is working with Montgomery County Public Schools to get him the help he needs. “As we implement a more structured program for him, we’ll see if some things just frankly aren’t clicking,” she says. “In the end, that is what will determine exactly where he is deficient and how we can help him with that.”

Meanwhile, Maison, who saw Clay pulled from the pool and witnessed her parents’ fear and panic, struggled emotionally after the accident. Though she seemed OK that summer, it quickly became apparent that something was wrong when she started school at Wayside that fall. “She struggled academically because they said she was basically unavailable to learn for the first half of first grade,” Laura says. Maison received therapy, and by third grade Laura and Matt had transferred her to the private Bullis School in Potomac, where she has settled in and is now thriving.

Thinking of the emotional toll and the amount of money the family has spent on such expenses as therapy, private school, medications and educational testing over the past six years, Laura wonders if there is an end in sight. She and Matt, who runs an executive search firm that serves the real estate industry, realize no one knows what the future will bring for Clay. But he’s alive, and that’s all that matters. “We try to do everything we can, we try to address everything we can,” she says. “We just have to hope for the best.”

As time passes, the memory of what happened doesn’t hit Laura as hard as it did in those early years, when she would be suddenly overwhelmed with emotion while waiting for a traffic light to change. Still, the sound of a helicopter can be upsetting. “I don’t like seeing them,” she says.

Laura continues her advocacy by promoting CPR Party, speaking to pediatricians and other groups, and  working with the NDPA. Some relatives have questioned her all-consuming dedication and whether it might be better to move on. But Laura is steadfast. She never wants anyone else to go through what her family did after Clay was pulled from the pool. “People don’t understand, but that’s what drives me,” she says. “It’s not all right. It’s not OK to experience that level of desperation and pain and fear.”

Julie Rasicot of Silver Spring is the managing editor of Bethesda Magazine’s online daily briefing, Bethesda Beat.